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Caseworker profiles: Insight into the job
After completing his degree in psychology with honours, 23 year-old Belal Ali wanted to work for an organisation that had a genuine concern for the community. It made his decision to join the public service working for Community Services over private practice, a simple one.
“I work with an excellent group of people and Community Services is really on the move as far as their policies and practices are concerned,” Mr Ali said.
“Being able to be involved in the decision-making process that can make a genuine difference in people’s lives is very rewarding.
“As an Arabic-speaking caseworker, I can help families in the Arabic community receive clearer information and benefit from a more culturally-sensitive interaction with Community Services.
“I hope one day to be even more involved with Community Services work with Arabic communities, particularly if I feel that I can add something positive to this community.”
While studying social work at university, Katrina Halcomb decided to complete her final field placement with Community Services Penrith office and never looked back, becoming a full time caseworker eight months ago.
She mainly deals with children in foster care, and her work includes building relationships, organising contact, accessing funding for services like counselling and liaising with schools.
“Positive results for children and their families are the most rewarding part of my work,’’ she said.
Ms Halcomb concedes there are challenges, but she says working in the Penrith area ensures access to a lot of valuable services in the community for those who need them.
St George CSC
After spending 22 years working in the education field, becoming a child protection caseworker was a new direction for Paul McDonald.
During his time as a primary school teacher, deputy principal and principal in both rural and city schools, Paul spent a good deal of his time working with children who were experiencing difficulties.
“I really enjoyed assisting children and families who were going through difficult times, and decided I wanted to make this a focus of my future work,” Paul said.
So last year, at the age of 44, Paul started working with Community Services as a caseworker, firstly at Sutherland Community Services Centre, then at the St George Community Services Centre.
His education qualifications, maturity and life experience made him well suited to the position. An intensive eight week caseworker development training course helped hone the required skills.
As a child protection caseworker Paul assesses reports about children and young people believed to be at risk of harm, and provides assistance to their families to reduce the harm.
“The best thing about my job is seeing the difference you can make, often by just offering some fairly sound advice or assistance,” he said.
“It’s the partnership with these families and the children that I really value.
“I also enjoy learning about the different cultures and traditions of the people living in the St George community.”
Paul said men could play a positive role in child protection and in supporting families and children.
“More men should consider joining Community Services and sharing in this great work.”
Natalie Todd’s first contact with Community Services was working as a police officer dealing with sexual assault cases. Since then she has completed her nursing studies and joined Community Services as a child protection caseworker this year.
“I enjoy helping to improve children’s lives and protecting them when needed,’’ Ms Todd said.
As a newcomer to the Armidale Community Service Centre, Ms Todd is still facing the normal challenges of a new career, but is applying her local knowledge to the caseworker role.
“I live locally and know how things work in this region. There are a number of disadvantages living in a rural area, including not being able to access services. My goal is to improve access to support services for families and young children in rural areas,” she said.
When Kathryn Puckeridge completed her science and psychology degree she decided she didn’t simply want a counselling role, but rather a career that offered a more hands-on approach to supporting children and families.
“At Community Services we go out and see the families and work with them and that’s what attracted me to the job.
“The best part is that we try to ensure children are safe, and while this often means they can’t stay with their families we do make sure the children maintain contact with their families where possible,” Ms Puckeridge said.
The 28-year-old has been working at the Cardiff Community Services Centre for three years. She said the office was really supportive and had the benefit of being located close to a lot of facilities within Newcastle including the hospital, refuges and support services.
Ms Puckeridge said she would like to develop her skills as a caseworker and help train newcomers.
Having a personal experience with Community Services drew Desma Newman into a career with the agency.
“As a child, Community Services staff were the important decision makers in a part of my life and I thought that I could do the same for other children in need,” Desma said.
“My personal experience means I have an understanding as to what some children are going through and what could make a real difference in their lives.”
Desma works in both the Griffith child protection and out-of-home care teams.
Her job involves assessing reports about children and young people believed to be at risk of harm, and providing assistance to their families to reduce the harm. She also supports children and carers where children are unable to live safely with their families.
Before joining Community Services, Desma worked at a home which provides culturally appropriate accommodation for Aboriginal clients with an intellectual disability. Prior to that she was an Aboriginal Health Worker helping people with diabetes.
“I have always been committed to ensuring the safety of children and aware of the complex issues involved in this area,” she said.
“For me, the position with Community Services was advertised at the right time.”
Local Community Services caseworker Greg Hale has enormous passion for his job and believes his work in the community has shaped his identity.
Greg agrees that being a caseworker is challenging, but says the rewards are there if you have a passion to help others.
“Putting up your hand and saying my community is important to me and having a passion for your work will fuel you through the tough parts of the job to bring profound and everlasting changes to children and families who without you, may not have made it through,” said Mr Hile.
Many people work to live, and some live to work. After working for over twenty years as a caseworker in Wollongong, Greg Hile works so others can live.
“No job can be more fulfilling or compelling than working for the greater good of others. My job is worthwhile because I care about it. I have a passion to help others. You can’t be everything to everyone and being a caseworker will test the toughest metal in you.
“At the end of the day, if you really like what you do, if you honestly care about kids and the future of your community, then you ride the sad moments of the job. For everyone one bad outcome, there are a hundred moments of overwhelming joy.
“The value you bring to the community by linking kids and families with services and community members are double what you get back in the satisfaction and knowledge that you’ve done a good job.
“The bottom line is I like changing someone’s disadvantage into an advantage. The relationships I have made will last me a lifetime, and have been truly special.
“When I first arrived in Wollongong I went and introduced myself to the local police, schools and the women’s refuge. The women who ran the refuge at the time took me under their wing and we became great friends and really turned a lot of young people’s lives around. I am proud to say those women are friends of mine to this day. That’s community!”
Living and working in the community is really important to Greg. He says it shapes his identity. Greg believes his passion for to make his community a better place has seen him turn up to work every day for over thirty years, and says he wouldn’t have it any other way.